The first Black South African soccer tourists

30Jun10

With the World Cup taking place in South Africa at present, it seems appropriate to take a look at the very first South African team to tour in Europe. This trailblazing group of footballers was not white, as might be expected, but black. The group of 16 players arrived at Southampton on 2 September 1899 and after staying the weekend at a hotel in Richmond they made their way north to take on the mighty Newcastle United. The ‘Kaffirs’ as the team was known, were defeated 6-3, and completely outclassed by one of the country’s top professional teams playing a form of combination football that they had never previously encountered.

Thereafter the tour settled down to a pattern whereby they played many of Britain’s leading sides, usually being heavily defeated and meeting with derision from the spectators. It was a gruelling schedule: almost 50 matches in 120 days as they travelled  from the North East to Scotland, Northern Ireland, the North West, the Midlands, London and the South Coast before concluding with a 7-3 defeat by Aberdare on 2 January 1900. The only victory came when they went over to France just before Christmas and defeated SC Tourcoing 3-1.

Although black people in South Africa were already considered second class citizens, the tourists were treated as any group of visiting sportsmen would have been. On their first night in England they were taken down the pub by their hosts where they sang songs in both English and their own language. They travelled around the country by train, stayed in hotels and were introduced to local dignitaries.

We know a small amount about the players. They were shopkeepers, skilled craftsmen and clerks. They spoke English and went to Church. Some of them also played rugby. The player we know most about is the captain, Joseph Twayi. He was a grocer who was born in Bloemfontein in 1873 and died in 1924. A follower of the Wesleyan branch of Christianity, he became a political activist helping to form the South African National Native Congress (SANNC) in 1912. The SANNC, of course, later adopted the name by which it is known today, the African National Congress.

Chris Bolsmann’s detailed account of the tour can be found in isse 25 of Soccer History magazine.

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